Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
Next Tuesday, in central London, ‘Intelligence Squared’ a glossy organisation which promotes itself as a forum for debate is hosting a discussion under the title ‘The Battle for the Countryside: Britain Should Rewild its Uplands’. The publicity material promises the usual nonsense about the countryside being allowed to be wild once again, which is apparently “the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands”. The event is open to anyone who can get to London.
Of course the high priest of ‘rewilding’ George Monbiot will be there to repeat his increasingly extreme views. Not that long ago George used to limit himself to decreeing where livestock farming should take place, and how many sheep and cattle people should be allowed to farm. George has now decided he is a vegan and that livestock farming should not exist at all. Frankly I have no idea if he really believes this or not, but either way it seems to be a tactic designed to drag the debate about land use towards his increasingly extreme position.
At the same time those farmers who are willing to put their heads above the parapet and argue that their systems provide sustainable food production and deliver conservation benefits face abuse and insult. This is a direct consequence of the outlandish and extreme rhetoric of Monbiot and his ilk.
I am sure Minette Batters, the very able NFU President, and Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Borders will make the logical case for the continuation of livestock farming and the communities that rely on them. Unfortunately their opponents will not be listening. They are not interested in the cultural landscape of the uplands created by the people who have farmed there for generations, essentially because they hate people. There is a deep strand of misanthropy that runs through the extreme end of the environmental movement the logical conclusion of which is this ill-defined concept of ‘rewilding’. Man is bad and should be removed from the countryside to let nature, which is good, take over.
It is not very difficult to predict exactly the lines the debate will run on, but it must be asked what it expects to achieve. In the last few months I have increasingly wondered whether it is helpful to even engage in debate with people who hold such extreme and impractical views. No farmer is going to seriously argue that they should farm without any consideration of the environment or sustainability. Should we then be engaging with environmentalists who seriously argue for a countryside without farmers?
There are very many sensible farmers, very many sensible environmentalists and very many who are both. Discussion and debate involving those in the centre will move us forward, but I cannot help thinking that this debate involves the wrong people, in the wrong place arguing about the wrong subject.
Follow me at @CA_TimB